Simply Sassy Style - A Miami Fashion, Automotive AND LifeStyle Blog

Thursday, May 26, 2016

SHERYL CONNELLY PROVIDING INSIDER ON WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A FUTURIST FOR FORD!

sheryl Connelly Ford Futurist www.simplysassystyle.com
Hello Sassy Peeps!

I have to admit there is something that I love about each and every automotive brand that I have had the pleasure of working with over these past few years. However, you guys know that I am totally #TeamFord! I may be a little bias, because while growing up there were several family members who were, and still are, in love with the Ford Brand. In my younger years I contributed all the hype to be based solely around the durability of their vehicles. Yet, as time went on and as I became more and more involved in the auto industry, I realized that their buzz has evolved into so much MORE. Sure durability and longevity are still a large factor when discussing Ford, but word on the street is that the brand is not only durable, they are total trendsetters. They listen to the consumer and consistently tap into their customers’ wants and needs. Additionally, I hear women rant and rave about how beautiful the colors of the vehicles are and how they care about their female audience. In my opinion, they totally scored taking things further and actually targeting both millennials and women! Millennials are so running things at the moment and 85% of purchases and purchasing influence are made by women. Can YOU say #totallywinning! OMG! Brilliant!

Over the past few years there have been several times my colleagues and I were sitting around shooting the breeze and this topic actually came up. We couldn't help but wonder who the mastermind is behind all of this smart business. It wasn't until I had the pleasure of traveling to CA last year, to attend the Ford Trends Conference that I found out about one of the hugeeeee factors. That factor is the savvy, creative and SUPER SMART Ford Futurist, Sheryl Connelly! Sheryl girl you are my hero!

OK! I know you guys are like a Ford Futurist? What is that? Well, originally I didn't know what it meant either so I Googled it! #GoogleIsAGirlsBestFriend Per www.merriam-webster.com

A Futurist is:

1: one who studies and predicts the future especially on the basis of current trends
2: one who advocates or practices futurism

- futurist adjective

Interesting right!?!?!!?! Yes! I totally agree! On that note let's begin!
SSStyle: Hi Sheryl! Could you please tell my readers along with myself what a Futurist is and how you became the Futurist for Ford?

Sheryl Connelly (Ford Futurist): Sure! I’ve worked with Ford for 20 years. The last 12 of those years, I have worked on Global Consumer Trends and Futuring. My actual title is, Global Consumer Trends and Futuring Manager. My very first job with Ford was answering the 1-800 line. I would answer questions like, where is my local dealer, or how frequently should I change my oil. I did that for a year. 
SSStyle: Really? I have to say that is really impressive!
Sheryl Connelly: I actually stumbled into the opportunity and, to be honest, I didn't even know this position existed within Ford.
SSStyle: Oh wow!
Sheryl Connelly: Yes. That was really a rewarding time in my career because during this time I knew so little about the automotive industry. I am so grateful to the people I met, because they really taught me everything I know about the industry today. As time progressed on I started wholesaling cars to dealers and then I very unexpectedly had an opportunity to switch gears and take a different turn in my career path by joining the trends team. 

SSStyle: Oh Really? Do Tell!

SC: When you are wholesaling cars to dealers, like any sales position it is very task oriented and it is all about your day to day work. Sales professionals would always ask "What have you done for me lately?" because whatever you did yesterday doesn't count today. The time frame was very much in the immediate now.

When I joined the trends team I spent my first year just reading and trying to learn. When wholesaling cars it's like you are on the front line of the battlefield, and from a trends perspective it is like you are looking down on the battlefield. The timing, the scale and the impact is so dramatically different. Instead of thinking about how many cars or trucks we are going to sell within a week, I started thinking about what kind of cars and trucks we will sell in five or ten years.  It’s really exciting to be in the industry and working on it from a different angle. 

SSStyle: I have to say your title is SO cool. I mean who wouldn't want to be known as a "Futurist"!

SC: Ultimately, I think the title Futurist is a little misleading. I would like to demystify this profession, because I can't predict the future. Inside the company we have an unofficial future that is based on how we think the world will look in a couple of years or even a couple of decades. My job is to see what the assumptions are and what happens if the future does not turn out the way we expect. 

When you are futuring you look at a situation as what will it look like if it continues on the same path, as well as if went in the exact opposite direction. For instance, I think that the definition of luxury has gone in the opposite direction. If we were to think about it in the early 2000s, it was very over the top and opulent and at this point in time, it is not as much about material possessions as it is about experiences. For instance, getting a pair of VIP Tickets to the hottest concert in town or getting a really extraordinary experience when you buy a luxury vehicle.

As a Futurist I look for patterns and behaviors. I want to know and understand why there was a shift and will that shift last for a very long time and what are the drivers underneath. 

Like in any organization, they may not operate under that title, but if you work product development or strategy then you are probably doing futuring work.
SSStyle: OMG Yes! Now that you have explained what futuring is in more detail, I feel like you are absolutely right. I worked for HP for many years and we would always discuss future trends. We didn't call it futuring, yet I feel as if it all falls under the same category. Although to be honest, I like the title Futurist better. It just sounds so much cooler! HAHA! I am laughing, but I am soooo serious! 
SC: Well thank you. However, I do think it sets some people up for an expectation that can't be delivered. 
SSStyle: Really? 
SC: Yes. I think on the other end of the spectrum, some people actually think you have a crystal ball and others think that it is a bit silly. I have had experiences where some people will put out their hands and say things like, "Can you read my palm?" 
SSStyle: Oh my! 
SC: So I think you have to be really measured if you are going to do this type of work. You also have to ground it in easy-to-follow logic and you have to back it up with clear evidence. 
SSStyle: Wow this is good stuff! Thank you so much for sharing!
SSStyle: I totally understand what you mean. I know that you don't have a crystal ball, but I DO know that you are extremely knowledgeable. While doing research, I see that you created a Trends Book. Can you tell us a little about the book and also what is trending for Ford in the future?

SC: Sure! When I first started doing this work we concentrated more on Global MacroTrends. What I mean by that is the things we track, and I imagine it is the same with HP, are really kind of unique to our industry. They are not guided by our industry, but they are guided by our cycle plan. Meaing it takes us 3 to 5 years to take a concept and execute it where we can market and sell it on the open market place. In addition to this long lead time we have a very large up front capital investment to make these changes happen. When we are thinking about what direction we want to go next we have to be really cautious on how we do that. So we are looking for trends that are slower moving, things like aging populations, the patterns of urban density etc. etc. Those things I like to call MacroTrends and I believe we will still be focusing on what they mean for the next 2, 3 or 4 decades.

Those things are widely communicated throughout Ford. Yet, you always find people who will say things like, "you came with this really interesting talk last year can you tell us the new trends" and we kindly explain that MacroTrends don't change that fast. That's when we started to focus on MicroTrends. MicroTrends are titled that to suggest a shorter shelf lift and slower impact. These are things that I think will be globally relevant. However, instead of 2, 3 and 4 decades like MacroTrends we might only be watching them for 3 or 4 years. 

Additionally, since 2013 we have published four editions of the Trend Book. When I started to monitor the evolution of Fords attitude in 2004 they were very protective. Our trend work was deemed proprietary and secret in nature. Over time we kinda took another stance in that regard and like all things go in life, the more that we gave the more we got back. We started to see that the more we told people about what we were looking at, they could offer insight that would only enrich our work. Each year we push ourselves, so we thought that we should introduce the conversation and see what kind of feedback we received.
To your point about what can we expect next from Ford...one of the trends we called out in this years trend book is called "The EZ Life". It talks about where technology is taking us with artificial intelligence, machine learning and advance algorithms. That points to a company like Ford who has tapped into autonomous driving. They understand how it will affect our smart mobility strategy. One of the question that I would pose around the world, is could you imagine yourself buying a self driving car in the next 10 years. We found that a high percentage of people who said yes comes from India and China. 

SSStyle: I would have never thought!
SC: Yes! 73% of the people we spoke to in China said yes and 70% of the people we spoke to in India agreed. As the US goes only 42% said yes.

We find that the commonalities are really interesting, but what makes a market place different is even more interesting. We didn't ask why but we do have some theories. A few of those being that you have the highest populations, greater congestion and higher instances of road accidents. So for countries like China autonomous driving would not only make there lives more convenient but it could be safer for them. When you look at the resistance, I think for the US we are not dealing  with the type of global congestion that a city like Beijing might have. Although I do hear that Florida does have some severe traffic, in Beijing the average commute time is like 5 hours a day. Which is a different ballgame all together. Additionally, the emotional ties play a part as well. A person can become very attached to their cars which have not be established or heavily rooted in the Chinese or India culture.
SSStyle: I know you guys are testing out autonomous driving here in the US. However, would Ford look at putting it on the market in India or Beijing first because they are more likely to buy them instead of here in America.
SC: I am actually not the person who would make that decision. However I would think that is a good guess. Not just because of the market places appetite for it, but I also think that China's political structure could make that happen very easily. It they decide they want to be car free that is something that they could make happen in a very short order. However, in the US it would be more difficult. You have to take things in consideration like how autonomous driving would impact insurance and inflation or how do you regulate them, how do you protect data and privacy etc. etc.

The obstacles between now and an autonomous future really don't lie with Ford. We know  our technology exists its really getting past the other hurtles.

SSStyle: Wow that is simply amazing! Thank you so much Sheryl for taking the time out of your busy schedule to meet with me! I really appreciate it!
SC: No problem! Thank you as well. Have a great day!

Sassy Peeps....OMG! What an exciting and interesting woman! I really love all of the insider! Now a question for you guys....What would you ask the amazing Ford Futurist if given the chance? Inquiring minds want to know? 

NOTE: Sheryl's 2016 Trends report can be found at: www.fordtrends.com


Learn more about Sheryl Connelly
Sheryl practiced law before working for Ford. In addition to a Juris Doctorate, she holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s in business administration. She teaches design research at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. Connelly has been a guest lecturer at Massachusetts Institute for Technology, University of Michigan and Wharton School of Business and a featured speaker at TED Global. Her strategic viewpoints have been published in the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Financial Times and BBC, and she has been profiled in Automotive News, Forbes and Edmunds. Fast Company magazine named her the 24th Most Creative Person in Business in 2013.

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Friday, April 29, 2016

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